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Dolphins on opposite sides of New Zealand have local accents, says study

Dolphins have individualistic personalities, but who knew that different groups would have different accents too, like humans?

Dolphins on opposite sides of New Zealand have local accents, says study
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Tom Swinen

An accent is one of the most noticeable elements of languages. But did you know that it isn't just restricted to humans? New research suggests that bottlenose dolphins in different regions of New Zealand have different accents too, as per IFLScience. Now, it is yet to be researched if dolphins with different accents struggle while communicating with each other.

Representative Image Source: Pexabay
Representative Image Source: Pexabay

Dr Jessica Patiño-Pérez, the lead author of the research from Massey University, recorded sounds of dolphin whistles from the Great Barrier Island (GBI) off New Zealand Aotearoa’s north coast and received recordings of the dolphin population from the south at Doubtful Sound (DS) from Dr Marta Guerra of Otago University.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Hamid Elbaz
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Hamid Elbaz

Patiño-Pérez then worked with her colleagues to analyze the sounds created by these dolphins and those from other dolphins around the world. The differences piqued the curiosity of people. As per the study, the whistles from the south were longer in duration and had more inflection than the ones from the Great Barrier Island. "At a global scale, the acoustic parameters of the whistles from the New Zealand populations clustered with populations found in the Northern Hemisphere, rather than to those in the Southern Hemisphere," stated the research. 

Representative Image Source:  Pexels | Daniel Torobekov
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Daniel Torobekov

The experts also said, "At Great Barrier Island, the most common type of whistle was upsweep followed by sine, while at Doubtful Sound, convex and sine whistles were the most common whistle types." The whistles largely depend on a dolphin's local environment, as well. Dolphins who live in deeper waters generally use lower sounds than the ones who live closer to the coast. 



Interestingly, dolphins also have signature whistles, almost like a name used to identify a certain dolphin among a group of many. The aquatic mammals use their whistles for many purposes like coordinating among themselves and for maintaining harmony. They also use it to recognize each other and establish behavioral aspects among themselves. For this reason, if a population is isolated for a long enough time, their language patterns start differing from one another, just like humans.

However, it is still not known how long it takes for two isolated groups to start conversing in different languages. The two dolphin populations from New Zealand are also vastly different from each other in terms of genetics, showing that they have been living away from each other for quite some time. 

The whistle sounds are so different that computers can recognize the whistles coming from two different groups with an accuracy of 90 percent, all because of the sounds recorded by the team. According to the authors of the study, "The key differences were whistle-type contour, duration, and end frequency." One more intriguing fact is that the GBI dolphins use lower frequency even after living closer to the coast than their southern counterparts. The experts believe the southern dolphins might be adapting their frequency in response to the increasing number of boats in the ocean. It's also likely that the populations could have been separated from each other due to their drastically different tones. 

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